Veterans Day is a time to honor those who served in the military. We thank them for their service and the sacrifices they made to protect our country. Veterans may come out of a war with diverse thoughts, emotions, physical and mental well-being. While we address veterans' physical well-being, we need to confront an uncomfortable topic – suicide.
Transitional life challenges veterans while they are in the service. Relocation, training, fighting, and experience produce a life filled with the unknown. The constant change can cause mental health disorders such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, or traumatic brain injury.
Mental health disorders contribute to the increase of suicides reported for veterans. JAMA Psychiatry reports:
Two studies of veterans of Operational Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operational Enduring Freedom (OEF) have shown that the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is 2 to 3 times higher among those exposed to combat compared with those who did not report significant combat exposure. The studies show evidence linking combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan to the development of post-deployment health problems, including PTSD, depression, anxiety, and symptoms attributed to mild traumatic brain injury.
Depression consists of several symptoms, including:
Loss of interest or joy in activities once found pleasurable
Lack of concentration
Weight gain or loss
Disproportionate feelings of guilt
Thoughts of suicide
Change in mood
The American Psychiatric Association defines PTSD as a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Traumatic events may include natural disasters, a severe accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, sexual violence, or severe injury.
The National Alliance for Mental Illness says the symptoms of PTSD include:
Alcohol and drug abuse
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) found that suicide rates due to PTSD vary by what era a soldier served. The VA reported:
Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF): About 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans who served in OIF or OEF have PTSD in a given year.
Gulf War (Desert Storm): About 12 out of every 100 Gulf War Veterans have PTSD in a given year.
Military personnel are at a high risk of TBI due to the nature of their job. Training, daily responsibilities, and combat place soldiers in jeopardy of sustaining head injuries. Traumatic brain injury occurs when a shock, bump, or injury pierces the skull. The responsibilities, expectations, and nature of military personnel’s jobs can leave brain injuries untreated for periods. A few signs and symptoms of traumatic brain injury are:
Not remembering how the injury occurred or the inability to recall the hours before or after the injury
Feeling confused or disoriented
Nausea or vomiting
Numbness of arms or legs
Active military personnel or veterans can experience severe mental health disorders when exposed to trauma. Deployment can expose a soldier to various situations they are not mentally or emotionally equipped to handle due to a lack of coping skills. Anxiety stemming from a prolonged trauma, stress, or fear-inducing event isn’t uncommon. Symptoms of anxiety include:
A sense of impending danger
Inability to concentrate
The number of veterans committing suicide is on the rise. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that, on average, 17 veterans a day die by suicide. In 2017, nearly one in every seven suicides nationally was a veteran—13.5%.
Individual or group therapy focusing on military personnel’s needs is essential to decrease the rate of suicide. However, accessing treatment, whether individual or group, isn’t always comfortable. Military families move around based on where their loved one is stationed. The stigma of going to therapy includes fear of being viewed as weak or dangerous. Military personnel can benefit from attending individual or group sessions off-base in a private treatment center.
Coping with stress, anxiety, depression, PTSD, or traumatic brain injury are factors in alcohol or substance abuse. The urge to drink or use substances to mask or alleviate negative emotions can occur. Seeking help through individual or group treatment will address alcohol or substance abuse and create an opportunity to discuss the underlying cause.
There are several ways to help a veteran, including:
Volunteering at a local Veterans Organization
Reaching out to help a veteran with daily activities
Listening to their stories and memories
Donating to Veteran Charities that support mental health awareness
Referring them to a therapist or groups focused on veterans mental health needs
Depression is not a sign of weakness. Allowing depression to go untreated can harm a soldier or their family. Admitting difficulty transitioning to civilian life, experiencing PTSD symptoms, depression, or anxiety is an act of strength. Helping veterans with mental health disorders requires understanding, attention, and the ability to refer them to a therapist or support group. Thank a veteran this Veterans' Day by being a source of support.
Veterans have a unique background. Serving in the military includes moving from place to place, training, combat, and constant change. Once a veteran leaves military service, the known becomes the unknown. Life outside of the military presents challenges that a veteran isn't always prepared to face. Military personnel may suffer from mental health disorders such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, and traumatic brain injury resulting from experiences while in active duty. Mental health disorders can occur after retirement. Mental health disorders are not a sign of weakness. If you or a loved one show signs or symptoms of a mental health disorder, reach out for help. Trained therapists can assist you in getting the help needed. SokyaHealth offers individual and group therapy for active and retired military personnel and their families at all California, Oregon, and Alaska locations. For more information, call us at 866-932-1767 and set up an appointment.